By Andrew Dennis
11 Mar 2014

Does Google Owe SEOs Anything?

Basic SEO     Link Building

There are many of us in the SEO industry that view Google as the enemy. A bane on our collective existence.

I, myself, have even had moments of frustration where I have cursed the “big G” and blamed them for my link building grief.

Judging from the creation of Whack-a-Cutts, it doesn’t appear I am alone.

However, I would not put myself in the “Google is the enemy” camp. I actually am quite thankful Google exists, as they are part of the reason I’m not still waiting tables (nothing against waiting, I just prefer sitting to standing all day). This is because as a link builder, much of my job involves building links to clients’ sites to help them become more visible in search engines like Google.

I also believe that although they are far from perfect, Google does a pretty good job of connecting people to the information they seek. This makes it much easier to surf the internet and contributes to the greater good of the web.

Also, as part of the Content Team at Page One Power I try to keep up to date on the latest news and trends surrounding the world of SEO/link building and as a result I read A LOT of articles. Through reading these posts, I have begun to notice a slight sense of entitlement within the SEO community in regards to how Google should treat us.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Google is perfect and I’m certainly not defending everything they do. However, I do think we have started to take things for granted a bit and this led me to ask myself a question.

Does Google Owe SEOs anything?

Grumpy Cat No.jpg

No. That’s the short answer.

However, I believe if we take a deeper look into this question, we can begin to understand why Google doesn’t owe us anything and actually become better SEOs/link builders in the process. The better we understand Google, the better we are at our jobs.

Why Google Doesn't Owe SEOs Anything

Although many of us in the industry seem to forget it from time to time, Google doesn’t actually owe us anything. I am fairly certain that Matt Cutts doesn’t wake up in the morning and wonder, “Hmmm…how can I appease the SEO industry today?” and frankly, he shouldn’t.

To remind ourselves why, here are some reasons Google doesn’t owe the SEO industry anything:

  • Google is a business
  • Google’s customers are search users (not SEO companies or even webmasters)
  • Google actually works pretty hard to be fair (for a giant company)

Google is a Business

This is probably the number one thing we forget as an industry. Google is a business and their primary goal is to make money.

It’s true Keanu, just like every other business in existence, Google wants to make money.

In fact, Google is a massive company that made over $50 billion in revenue last year. The primary way that Google makes its money is through advertising and the majority of their ad revenue comes from search.

This is because Google is the leader in search and thusly garners an overwhelming amount of ad dollars ($32.2 billion last year). The reason that Google remains the undisputed leader in search is because they provide a quality product to their customers.

We need to remember that Google is actually a giant business, making most of their money from ads in search. So in fact, their business is reliant on returning useful and relevant results. If we SEOs remember this fact, we can begin to worry a lot less about what Google does and why, and we can actually become better at our jobs.

For example, a while back Google decided to stop providing keyword data through Google Analytics. This caused quite the frenzy within the SEO/link building community.

While Google claimed this was done to protect consumer privacy, many people within the industry believe that this was a move to push people towards paid search and specifically, Google AdWords (for which this data is still available).

I would tend to agree with these folks as why wouldn’t this data be stripped as well if Google were truly trying to protect privacy. Rand Fishkin makes some excellent points surrounding this topic in this article.

However, I maintain that Google is a business and they don’t owe us this data. Rather than complain about the loss of keyword data, we need to begin to develop different strategies for keyword research.

We can also become better link builders by considering how Google makes money.

For Google to continue to be a titan in the tech industry, they must continue to grow their revenue. Their revenue completely depends upon their search dominance. Therefore, they have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy. Here is the crazy part: those customers aren’t SEO agencies and link builders or even webmasters!

Sorry Keanu, but it’s true.

Google’s customers are search users

I know, shocking right?

Google’s customers are the people who actually use Google to find things on the internet. These are the people Google wants to keep happy.

This is why Matt Cutts and the Google webspam team exist; they want to protect the quality of their product (Google search) for their customers. They are constantly working to ensure that users receive the best and most useful results when they use Google search. Google’s entire business is invested in maintaining the quality of their search results and this is why they punish/penalize anything that threatens that quality.

If we approach link building with this in mind, we can develop more effective strategies and start building some very powerful links.

Google actually works pretty hard to be fair (for a giant company)

Considering that Google is a giant company, they actually work pretty hard to be fair in their treatment of SEOs/link builders.

Although it seems like their guidelines are constantly changing and those guidelines can be confusing, Google does provide a semi-vague list of what they consider link schemes. Like I said, this isn’t the most clearly written document, but it does give us a general idea of what not to do.

Also, Matt Cutts (head of Google’s webspam team) has made himself pretty accessible to the SEO industry. Mr. Cutts attends/speaks at SEO conferences and frequently answers questions related to SEO/link building in his Google Webmaster videos.

Again, Cutts doesn’t always speak in definite or concrete terms and it can sometimes take some reading between the lines, but he certainly doesn’t have to do these videos.

Cutts even goes as far to tackle the issues facing the Dino SEO community.

Better Link Building

Let’s not forget that Matt Cutts straight up said that link building isn’t illegal in this interview with Eric Enge. In fact he even went as far to say “not all link building is bad”. Even blatantly breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines isn’t against the law, so of course link building isn’t illegal.

However, as mentioned before Google does want to protect their search results and pursuing the various spammy tactics that go against their guidelines can get you into trouble with Google.

Considering the factors above, we begin to see that we need not worry about Google so much. We can see that we should be more focused on their customers: the users.

Don’t build links for Google, build links for the user

I believe that sometimes we focus too much on how Google will view our links, rather than the people who will use them. Google doesn’t want you to build links for them – they value natural links that make sense.

Two of the major things we must consider when approaching link building from the perspective of the user are relevancy and usefulness.

Relevancy is a key component as it not only benefits the user, but also the web as a whole. Relevancy has been a crucial aspect to link building for some time now and I’m not simply talking about links on sites within your niche.

I think we can go a step further here and put ourselves in the user’s shoes and really consider, “Should this link be here?”

When we are curating potential link prospects we should consider where our target audience will be frequenting. Rather than just finding sites within our niche or industry, we should look for sites that our target audience would actually visit and engage with.

Along with relevancy, think about the usefulness of our links. The links we build should add value to whatever site/content they are attached to.

Perhaps the link points to a page with more information on what the user is reading or cites the source of the information. We should be building links that people actually want to click on, links that point to natural/relevant pages.

Ideally these pages already exist on the site we are linking to, but sometimes this is not the case. For example we often run into this while building links to eCommerce sites. If the site has nothing to link to that would add value, you can create a linkable asset that would be useful and helpful to the user.

These types of links help make the web more navigable and would be valuable even if Google and other search engines didn’t exist.

Google likes relevant and useful links

Not only are these links helpful to users, but these are actually the types of links Google likes.

This is because these links are natural and actually add value to the web. These kinds of links actually improve search results (ya’ know, the things that make Google money) by connecting valuable content and information in places where it makes sense.

These types of links demonstrate why Google uses links for the core of their search algorithm. After all, if your site actually is the best result for the terms you are hoping to rank for, chances are Google is going to want you to rank there too.

These links are valuable

Adding value to the web and creating links that are helpful to users is great and all, but as link builders we often have clients to answer to that need to see results.

Good news! Although these links take work, building them will still increase rankings as Google continues to devalue lesser, spammy tactics.

When we focus on building links with the user in mind (and specifically a user within our target audience) we can build links that drive highly targeted traffic. This is the type of traffic that is more likely to lead to conversions, something a client would surely be stoked on.

By focusing on placing links on sites where your target audience engages, you can also build/strengthen brand awareness. This increases your site’s visibility in the places it matters most (aside from the SERPs).

And yes, these are still inbound links and they do provide SEO value as well.


Since this has turned into a fairly long rant and quite possibly many of you have decided TL;DR…here’s a recap:

  • Google is a business - they actually don’t owe us anything
  • Google cares about user experience and the quality of their SERPs – they want to provide the highest quality they can
  • Build links for users, not Google – build links like Google doesn’t exist, these links are natural in the eyes of Google and provide value beyond just SEO
Andrew Dennis

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Manager at Shopify. Andrew is an alumnus of the University of Idaho and consequently a lifelong Vandals fan. You can connect with Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn.